This week we will celebrate our Independence Day. As an American citizen, I am very proud of our country and I consider myself privileged. In no other country do we see so many flags flying as we see in the US. We are really proud and patriotic. When I was a little boy, without even realizing I would tell people that someday I would live in America. I am grateful to God for so many wonderful people who have made me feel at home over the years. At the same time, we are not as excited to be living in Chicago or in Illinois because of all the scandals that surround our politicians. The stalemate in our state and city is turning into a ridiculous media circus and we run the risk of becoming the laughing stock of the nation.
Americans in general seem to be fed up with the government and with elected officials. Congress seems to be doing nothing and going nowhere. The government seems to be a rudderless ship being tossed about randomly. On a tour of the Capitol, a visitor once asked a security guard, “Who is that?” He replied, “That is the Congressional chaplain.” “Does he pray for the House or for the Senate?” The guard responded, “He takes one look at the House and another at the Senate, and then he prays for the country.” Looking at the way things have been going, we all have to pray for the country.
Even though I appreciate individuals who dedicate their lives to public service, at the same time I am wary of many politicians, regardless of their party affiliation. We have reservations about politicians because compromise is their name and deal-making is their game. Most local and national politicians do not attain such power without seriously compromising their principles or selling out their dreams. Saints on the other hand are individuals who are not afraid to lay down their lives rather than compromise themselves.
On July 6th we will be celebrating the feast of Maria Goretti, a young Italian girl of twelve, who preferred to die rather than succumb to the sexual advances of Alessandro. She considered her commitment to purity more valuable than life itself. She was following the example of another young saint, St Dominic Savio, who made the following resolution on the day of his First Holy Communion: “Death rather than sin.” Both these young people were only walking in the steps of numerous martyrs who laid down their lives in the first four centuries of Christianity rather than renounce their faith in Jesus Christ. They refused to settle, to compromise, and in the process sacrificed their hold on their earthly lives.
The example of Maria Goretti teaches us two important lessons. First of all, she inspires us to cherish and practice the virtue of purity. A few years ago, talking to some group in the parish, I confessed that it is harder to be a celibate in America than in India. I am saying this not because temptations are greater here. I am saying this because chastity and celibacy are not valued in the American culture. Catholics who choose to follow the teachings of the Church with regard to sexual morality, whether they are single or married, are looked down upon and sometimes ridiculed.
It is an unspoken assumption that everyone in our society is sexually active. In such a highly sexually-charged milieu how is it possible to teach our young people to be pure? When some grown-ups do not set them good examples in this regard, when not a day goes by when the media do not highlight someone’s sexual escapades, we become more and more desensitized. Even a secular periodical such as TIME magazine recently dedicated a whole issue to the problem of pornography that is becoming an epidemic. Many Christians, including Church-going Catholics, do not seem to consider impurity as sinful. And yet, the Church has not changed her teachings. The Church insists that sexual intimacy is authentic and morally good only within the committed relationship of marriage. I do know full well that being chaste is not easy. And yet Goretti challenges us to follow her example of purity. Let us remember that we cannot be pure relying on our resources. We need the help of the Lord. We need prayer. We need the sacraments. We need discipline.
Secondly, Maria Goretti beckons us to be radical in our fidelity. She preferred to lose her life than save it. If a persecution broke out in our country today, I wonder how many of us would willingly lay down our lives. We live in an age of plea bargains, compromises and accommodation. Some may find excuses to save themselves just like Peter who denied knowing the Lord in order to save his own skin. We can be moved more by our comfort, convenience, and pleasure, and as a result, we might be willing to look for a compromise. I hope to God that the Holy Spirit will strengthen me in the face of persecution and lead me to lay down my life rather than compromise. We need to pray for courage and unadulterated fidelity.
Please talk about the example of Maria Goretti to your children. She brings us lessons that we sorely need in our time. May the Lord raise up men and women who are unshaken in their Christian commitment!
Hope you are enjoying your summer!
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...